Brookings publishes economic study 

Research institute reports on economic struggle in the region

Brookings publishes economic study. Image courtesy of Brookings Institute.

A decline in a depressed housing market and chronic unemployment continued to aggravate the otherwise steady economic progress among Intermountain West metropolitan areas, according to a Brookings Institute report.

Released in June, the Mountain Monitor is a quarterly collaboration between the institute’s Metropolitan Policy Program and UNLV-affiliate Brookings Mountain West. The report uses economic data to compare and analyze the reasons for the financial failures and successes of major metropolitan cities in Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Idaho, according to William Brown, Brookings Mountain West director of planning and communications.

“The report looks at the metropolitan areas within the region,” Brown said. “We track economic data in these cities and compare them.”

The report found that Intermountain West cities made slow but steady progress towards economic recovery, but Salt Lake City has led the region by making the strongest comeback from the recession, putting it in the top 40 percent of high-performing cities throughout the nation.

Mountain Monitor also revealed that unemployment rates in the Intermountain West region have improved at solid rates, however, cuts to government employment “exacerbated” the recession in cities such as Las Vegas, Phoenix and Boise, the report stated.

In Nevada, a boost to employment, job growth and economic output placed Las Vegas in the middle-quintile on the national reports, according to Mountain Monitor.

“The Intermountain West is lagging the country and we are lagging the Intermountain West,” said Brookings Mountain West Director Robert Land.

The report found that while Las Vegas saw an increase in the employment rate for the first quarter of 2011, the city still endures an unemployment deficit of up to 14 percent.

“The local economy was not diversified,” said Stephen Miller, UNLV economics professor and department chair, referring to the reasons for the major job losses in Nevada and Las Vegas. “We were heavily tied to leisure hospitality and construction, which were hit hardest in the depression.”

Although much of the slow recovery in Las Vegas is due to the lack of jobs in the private sector, the report stated that cuts to government employment have extended the recession in the area.

“Government job losses at all levels threaten to undermine gains in the private sector and drag down recovery,” the report said.

Out of the entire Intermountain West region, Las Vegas and Phoenix are the only metropolitan cities to continue to lose jobs in the public sector, which accounts for 18 percent of the employment in the mountain metros, according to the report.

Unlike Las Vegas, the report found that an increase in state employment in places like Provo, Denver and Colorado Springs has bolstered job growth in those areas, with Salt Lake City topping the list of regional cities in terms of overall economic recovery.

According to Mountain Monitor, an ongoing problem for the Intermountain West region in terms of economic development is still a depressed housing market and continuing waves of foreclosures, as seven of the main metropolitan areas ranked in the bottom national quintile, enduring 5 to 7 percent declines in housing prices.

In Las Vegas, houses sell for 60 percent less than they once did. The city also saw a relapse in foreclosures in the first trimester of the year from 2010.

Though economic output in the region continues to grow slowly, the report concluded that the region, like the rest of the country, has significant ground to make up.

“Las Vegas [and other cities in the region] made a little progress,” Brown said. “But the question is, will we continue to improve?”

Contact Maria Ágreda at [email protected]